Saturday, November 21, 2009

90+ Cellars: Good & Inexpensive Wines

While persuing the shelves of your local wine store, you may see a label marked 90+ Cellars. This label is currently sold in about 90 wine/liquor stores in Massachusetts, as well as being available in about twenty other states. But what is the story behind this label, and should you take a chance on this wine?

90+ Cellars, a Boston based company, is a virtual winery where they purchase excess wines from established wineries and sell it under their own label, and at a significant discount. The wineries sell this excess wine because either they produced too much or the demand for that specific wine has waned. These wines have already been produced and bottled so all that needs to be done is for 90+ Cellars to have their label placed onto the bottle.

They don't just buy any excess wine. There is criteria used to determine which wines they will sell. The criteria is that the wines "...must have a pedigree of 90 or higher ratings, best buy or gold medal accolades from major publications." They cannot though tell the consumer the name of the original winery. That fact must remain anonymous.

Each of their wines is assigned a “Lot” number upon release and Lot #15 will be their next wine available, in a couple months. All of the wines are available in limited quantity. Their Reserve selections may only be available in 100-200 cases, while the normal line will be available in the thousands. But once a Lot is gone, it will no longer ever be available.

Recently, I met a couple of the guys behind 90+ Cellars, including Kevin and Brett. They invited some local wine writers and wine store owners to taste some of their current wines, and potential future releases. Prior to the event, I had some questions and concerns about 90+ Cellars and intended to raise them at the event. I was unsure how they would handle these issues as they might not be the easiest.

I was extremely pleased that Kevin and Brett were honest and forthright in response to my questions. They did not try to evade or obfuscate the issues. Such integrity impressed me. They were also able to clarify several issues for me.

Why do they rely on 90+ ratings? First, they do not rely on only such ratings, and at least one of their wines has not received a 90+ rating. As mentioned above, the 90+ rating is only one such possible criteria. They will also consider other significant accolades. Though the label may imply to some that they only rely on 90+ ratings, their website does mention the other criteria.

Second, 90+ ratings are important to them because many consumers do consider such ratings when buying wines. They are a business, trying to make money, so it makes financial sense to use ratings if many consumers rely upon them. Especially if they are a new company trying to enter the market.

Personally, I would rather consumers relied less on such scores, and were more willing to try wines that maybe did not score as high, or which lack any score. There are plenty of excellent wines that fail to attain a 90+ rating. But I do understand why wineries and stores use scores to promote wines.

Another concern for me is that the 90+ Cellar wines generally lack a story, or at least one which can be disseminated to the public. Because of the anonymity of the wines they sell, the consumer cannot learn about the actual winery, cannot heard about the stories behind the wine. Kevin admits that is an issue, and not something that really can be changed.

But what 90+ Cellars does offer are very good wines, at a significant discount from the original wine. I tasted through many of their wines, and they were generally very good. None of the wines were bad, though some were not my preferred style. My favorites included:

Lot #6 ($13.99), an Unoaked Chardonnay from Australia was excellent, a crisp wine with delicious fruit.

Lot #8 ($11.99), a Garnacha from Spain, a delightful melange of bright fruits, including blueberry, some spice notes and a touch of herbal. Very easy drinking and fun wine.

Lot #15 (soon to be released), a Pinot Noir from the Carneros region of California. This Pinot has not received a 90+ rating, but I know the source and it is a top producer, as well as one of my favorites. This wine was excellent, and a great value.

So will you like the wines of 90+ Cellars? If you want a delicious wine, at a good price, then definitely give them a try. You will miss out on the story of the wine, but that may not matter to you. I certainly would buy some of these wines, based on their taste and low price. So keep an eye out for these wines.


Sunday Cook said...

That is very interesting. I would never have thought of such a thing. Do you know what wine shops will be carrying the label?

Richard Auffrey said...

Their website has a store locator ( so you can find the closest to your location.

The Wine Whore said...

In my opinion, as long as they sell good wine for fair prices, that's all that will matter. I think that there is a lot of this going on right now because of the downturn in the market... as long as the consumer can get their hands on some good juice for a fair price, I'm happy!


Anonymous said...

A store in my town (Concord, MA) has them called West Concord Liquors. I got a mixed case and got 20% off. There wasn't a bad wine in the bunch.

Cristiano said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cristiano said...

I've had the pleasure to taste through most of the 90+ Cellars' selection at Sea Grape Wine Shop and find them to be amongst the best values out there. We carry the Napa Pinot Grigio and Merlot. My personal favorite is the Shiraz/Viognier!!! So good at an unbelievable price.

Unknown said...

HI! Great info! I just tried the Old Vine Malbec, which I purchased for 10.99. The first night I had it, it tasted like it was lacking fullness and body and as if there was an explosion of berries in my mouth. I had it with salad and mixed vegetables. Then, last night we decided to have it again, this time with chicken. It didn't stand up to the bold flavor I had cooked into the chicken. However, I must say, when I poured a second glass, it got surprisingly (and thankfully) better. The first night I sipped a glass by myself and was unimpressed and would have rated it about 5 out of 10 stars. Then last night, when we each took our first sip, we looked at each other and made a face, but my rating moved up to 6 out of 10 stars. Overall, I will stick to a 6-6.5 out of 10 star rating and I wouldn't purchase this one again. I wonder if perhaps their Cabernet is better, although I'm hesitant to purchase it when the first bottle wasn't blowing me away. I'd be anxious to hear what others have to say about sipping this wine.